Soccerex European Forum (Manchester): Knights of the Football Realm

Day 1 – Wednesday 10 April 2013

Soccerex is an event which is very much about the future of the game, but does also like to pay its respects to the footballing legends of the past. In this session, two international greats Bobby Charlton (ex-England and Manchester United) and Eusébio (ex-Portugal and Benfica) were brought together for a discussion moderated by Jeff Powell. Whilst set out below is my report on the conversation that took place, I felt compelled by some of the things I saw and heard to provide this reflective introduction.

During the course of this session, clips were shown of two classic encounters which featured the two greats; the first was the 1966 World Cup Semi-Final in which England beat Portugal 2-1 with Charlton scoring both for ‘The Three Lions’ and Eusébio a penalty for ‘A Seleção’ with the second the 1968 European Cup Final in which Manchester United triumphed over Benfica 4-1 with Charlton scoring twice for United. As I watched the black and white footage I genuinely felt privileged to be in the same room as the two stars.

However, those images of fit, fleet-footed athletes of the 60s belonged to a period nearly 50 years ago. Time is a cruel master and therefore it was sad to witness the impact of it on these two giants of the game. Eusébio hobbled into the arena using crutches for support whilst Bobby Charlton (who by his own admission) lost his thread when recounting his tales of the past on a number of occasion. Despite this though, it was still a humbling experience to be in the presence of such world footall legends. Gentlemen – thank you. 


12:30 – 11:15       Knights of the Football Realm

–      Sir Bobby Charlton, Legend, Manchester United & England

–      Eusébio, Legend, Benfica & Portugal

–      Moderator: Jeff Powell, Journalist, Daily Mail

Jeff Powell and Sir Bobby Charlton

Jeff Powell introduced Sir Bobby Charlton, England’s leading goal-scorer and Portuguese legend Eusébio before the audience was showed brief highlights of the 1966 World Cup Semi-Final game between England and Portugal. Sir Bobby then recounted the story of how he was asked to perform a certain role in the 1966 World Cup Final. He described how Sir Alf Ramsey had said to Sir Bobby that he wanted him to ‘man-mark, Franz Beckenbauer. Charlton added that Sir Alf always did his homework and if it meant England would win the game he was more than happy to carry out that role. When the game kicked-off Beckenbauer ran straight over to Sir Bobby – West German manager Helmut Schön had asked Franz Beckenbauer to ‘man-mark’ Charlton! Sir Bobby added that he worried when England would next win the World Cup.

Eusébio and Sir Bobby Charlton

Charlton continued that he had known Eusébio for over 30 years and like himself loved the game of football. Sir Bobby added that he remembers watching the 1962 European Cup Final in which Eusébio outshone the stars of the great Real Madrid team.

Jeff Powell went back to the 1966 World Cup tournament and said that it was hard to believe that it was possible to pay at the turnstiles for England’s opening game against Uruguay. He added that after the post-war boom had died off, the competition hadn’t caught the public’s imagination. However, with England becoming World Champions, society latched on to football and the transformation in how the game was perceived had started.

Sir Bobby reflected that Sir Matt Busby was a visionary who wanted change in the game. He remembers Sir Matt had been to the USA and had seen stadiums with early examples of hospitality boxes. Upon his return he wanted these at Old Trafford as Sir Matt demanded that United to be the number one in all aspects of football. Charlton added that Sir Alex Ferguson had the same vision.

In looking at football today, Sir Bobby said that the game was unbelievable and was not surprised at its global appeal. He added that he had many friends in the Far East who would get up in the early hours to watch Manchester United and Premier League games live.

Sir Bobby reminisced about the late Liverpool manager Bill Shankly who he regarded as a great tactician who had a fantastic attitude to the game. He remembers Shankly calling in at his home and staying to talk football with his wife Norma, whilst Bobby went and played a game! He added that he was lucky to have been trained and coached by Sir Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy and remembers one particular piece of advice from Murphy which was that he always encouraged Sir Bobby to take a shot when the chance arose. Murphy said the crowd would always forgive a player who took the opportunity.

Jeff Powell asked Sir Bobby whether Wayne Rooney would surpass his England record of 49 goals. Charlton replied that he was an enthusiastic and talented player and that Rooney did listen to advice given to him. Sir Bobby said he was proud to hold the record, but would be ‘gutted’ if it was beaten.

Charlton was then asked by Jeff Powell about Duncan Edwards. Sir Bobby said they shared the same digs when they first started at Manchester United and also did their National Service together and were even posted in the same billet. He remembered how they would leave camp on 5.30 on a Friday night to travel back for the game on a Saturday. Charlton added that Edwards could play anywhere and did so without question and was excellent with both feet as well as his head. There was hardly any footage of Duncan Edwards in action, but Sir Bobby said that he was still the best player he had ever played with. Jeff Powell wondered how difficult it was following the Munich disaster in 1958. Sir Bobby said that it was incredibly difficult for everyone involved at Old Trafford, as nobody knew if the club would actually survive.

Reflecting on his early career, Sir Bobby shared with the audience how as a schoolboy there were 18 clubs after him. It was though Joe Armstrong who spotted Charlton up in Durham and signed him for Manchester United. Sir Bobby explained that he was more than prepared to move from the North East to the North West as United had a great reputation for Youth Coaching. He moved into digs in Sale at a time when Trafford Park was the biggest industrial park in Europe.

Jeff Powell asked about how Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson compared. Sir Bobby replied that they both had the same aims and both recognised they were coming to a ‘big’ club. In addition both men knew how to handle the Directors. Charlton continued that United had a small number of Directors who shared the principles of the manager in wanting excellent players at the club. As a group they dealt with the business side which allowed Sir Alex to deal with the football matters. Sir Bobby said that Ferguson was successful in winning trophies, but had failed at retirement! Charlton added that Sir Alex had the same energy and enthusiasm as he had at day one and would go on forever! Powell asked whether the recent emergence of Manchester City had reinvigorated the Manchester United boss. Sir Bobby replied that Ferguson hated losing and the loss on Monday in the ’derby’ game would have hurt. He knew that Sir Alex was motivated by the production of young players; a different approach to that of neighbours City. Jeff Powell added that whilst Sir Alex held back selecting young players, he had been instrumental in providing a number for England in the current squad.

Jeff Powell then took Sir Bobby back to Estadio Nou Camp, León in 1970 for the World Cup Quarter-Final between England and West Germany and the point at which he was substituted with England leading. Charlton said that he was so upset to be taken off as he and England were playing well and looking like they were heading to the Semi-Finals. Sir Bobby said that he had struggled with the altitude throughout the competition but felt in excellent condition for the game in León. The subsequent defeat 3-2 in extra-time was the last time Charlton played for England and Sir Bobby told the audience Sir Alf Ramsey apologised for the events in Mexico after the game.

For the next question, Jeff Powell moved away from football to ask Sir Bobby about his charity work. Charlton responded that he has become involved with landmine clearance work after visiting Bosnia. Sir Bobby added that the location was a nightmare, with deserted houses and the football stadium full of mines. As a result he set up his own charity ‘Find a Better Way’ which works to rid the world of landmines and help people affected by these devices.

Returning to football, Jeff Powell asked Sir Bobby what he thought about the future of the game. He replied that it was the biggest business in the world and was the game that people wanted to see for the intensity provided by individual players and teams; it was quite simply ‘The World Game’.

The next question from Jeff Powell was related the prospects for England in the 2014 World Cup. Charlton responded that the English game was respected, but he felt obliged to say that we had a chance to win in Brazil. However, Sir Bobby continued that England needed more good players and with the amount of foreign players in the game currently, that was very difficult. We had to believe we could be Champions, but that Spain and Germany were the favourites. Charlton added that the Barcelona midfield had changed the way international football was played.

Eusébio, Sir Bobby Charlton and Jeff Powell

In closing the session, brief highlights of the 1968 European Cup Final were shown before Eusébio joined Sir Bobby Charlton on stage. Eusébio joked how it was the only time ‘Mr Bobby’ scored with his head. He added that Alex Stepney had not wanted to shake his hand after making a great save from the Benfica forward as the United keeper wanted to get on with the game. Eusébio said he admired Sir Bobby, but also remembered George Best in 1966 when United thrashed Benfica 5-1 in Lisbon. The closing memory from the Portuguese great was in relation to the 1966 World Cup tournament where Eusébio was the leading scorer with 9 goals.

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Posted April 18, 2013 by Editor in category "Soccerex 2013

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